A new study, published online Feb. 13 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, further suggests the importance of folic acid in fetal neural development. The study received wide coverage from print media and medical websites. Although the websites of the three major US television networks cover the story, only the NBC Nightly News featured an on-air segment devoted to the study.
NBC Nightly News (2/12, story 11, 0:25, Williams) reported that “a new study found that women who take folic acid supplements around the time they become pregnant may be 40% less likely to have children with autism.”
USA Today (2/12, Szabo) reports, “In the new study, which included more than 85,000 Norwegian children, doctors asked pregnant women to fill out a questionnaire about supplement use, both before and during their pregnancies.” Investigators “then followed the children, born between 2002 to 2008, for an average of six years.”
The New York Times (2/13, A20, Rabin, Subscription Publication) reports, “Women taking folic acid, a B vitamin, before pregnancy were less likely to give birth to children with the most severe form of autism.” However, the Times points out that “the absolute risk that a child would have autism disorder was very low: 0.2 percent among women not taking folic acid, versus 0.1 percent among those who did.”
The Los Angeles Times (2/12, Kaplan) “Booster Shots” blog reports, “Among the 85,176 children in the study, 270 (or 0.32%) received an ASD diagnosis – 114 (0.13%) had autistic disorder, 56 (0.07%) had Asperger syndrome and 100 (0.12%) were diagnosed with ‘pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified,’ or PPD-NOS.” These youngsters “were more likely to be born to women who did not take folic acid. In the raw analysis, mothers who skipped the supplement were more than 2.1 times more likely to have a child with autistic disorder compared with mothers who took the supplement.”
Bloomberg News (2/13, Kitamura) reports, “The study was funded by the Norwegian government and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.”
According to MedPage Today (2/13, Neale), “‘The finding that periconceptional supplement use might reduce the risk of autism is encouraging; however, it is important to confirm this finding in other population-based birth cohorts,’ Robert Berry, MD, MPHTM, of the CDC’s Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disorders in Atlanta, and colleagues wrote in an accompanying editorial. The fact that folic acid supplementation was not associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders is reassuring, they said, and ‘this should ensure that folic acid intake can continue to serve as a tool for the prevention of neural tube birth defects.'”
Also covering the story are Reuters (2/13, Pittman), the Huffington Post (2/13, Pearson), the CNN (2/12, Sloane) “The Chart” blog, the NPR (2/13, Hamilton) “Shots” blog, HealthDay (2/13, Reinberg), Forbes (2/13, Herper), the ABC News (2/13, Lupkin) “Medical Unit” blog, a “MyHealthNewsDaily” feature on the NBC News (2/13, Winters) website, the CBS News (2/13, Castillo) website, and the Daily Mail (UK) (2/13).
— “Association Between Maternal Use of Folic Acid Supplements and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Children, The JAMA Network, February 13, 2013.